a woman carries a child away from a raft on a beach in Europe
Dr. Tali Shaltiel, part of IsraAID's Medical team, assisting refugees on the shores of the island Lesbos, providing them assistance and emergency medical treatment. (Photo/Boaz Arad-IsraAID.

IsraAid’s first US office opens at Palo Alto JCC

The first IsraAid office in the United States has opened in Silicon Valley. And the organization is throwing itself an invitation-only launch party on April 5 to celebrate.

IsraAid is a Tel Aviv-based NGO that offers aid and relief to the international community during crises and disasters. The local office, which opened in February, is based at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. With three full-time staffers, it aims to tap Silicon Valley for donations, to build connections in the community and to tout the organization’s mission, said Erin Zaikis, executive director of the U.S. office.

three women stand together smiling
IsraAid officers (from left) Sarith Honigstein, senior director of institutional affairs; Erin Zaikis, executive director; Talya Feldman, senior director of operations

“A big part of our work is fundraising, as well as connecting with the local Jewish community,” she said. “We’re trying to teach people about what’s going on. That means educational trips for rabbis and tech leaders, and building our professional roster.”

To reach young people, IsraAid sponsors student fellowships to travel to six different countries. “Basically, they work in the field with us for two months,” Zaikis added, “and then they’re required to launch two programs over the year and fundraise.”

Zaikis said the organization also seeks to build interfaith partnerships, sending professionals to IsraAid programs around the world. “Globally we are focused on the Yazidi genocide in Iraq, the East Africa famine and the Rohinga refugees in Myanmar and Bangladesh, while continuing our ongoing programs and responding to disaster,” she said.

Locally, IsraAid runs programs in Bay Area secular and religious schools to educate children on the refugee crisis. It will also participate in the Jewish National Fund’s upcoming Yom HaAtzmaut celebration at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El and at the Israel Cultural Connection’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot at the Palo Alto JCC.

Founded in 2001, IsraAid has sent more than 1,000 doctors, nurses, social workers and trauma experts to crisis zones in 35 countries.

Before IsraAid, Zaikis ran a nonprofit that recycled hotel soap and taught communities in Uganda and Myanmar how to chemically re-process soap, distributing it back into the community. She said working for IsraAid appealed to her because her Jewish identity is tied to service.

“We’re non-religious, non-political, doing work in so many places, in some of the worst humanitarian crises, with help from Israelis,” she added. “[IsraAid] resonates with unaffiliated Jews in a way that other things don’t.”

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a staff writer at J. He can be reached at max@jweekly.com.